Do you remember when a cup of coffee came in two choices – white or black?
Before World War II, Australia was largely a nation of tea drinkers – just like the good old motherland, Great Britain. Indeed, when coffee first started appearing in capital cities like Melbourne, it was in specialist shops and coffee stalls, the numbers of which declined by the 1920s because of their association with crime and other unsavoury elements.
But its consumption soared during the war years, thanks to the influence of US servicemen, declining stocks of tea and a realisation that mixing chicory with the coffee may not have been the best idea.
It was in 1947 though that the game changed completely, as Nestlé introduced the concept of instant coffee, which took off domestically in a major way. While espresso bars enticed those looking for a premium coffee drinking experience, many common or garden pubs and hospitality venues were still serving instant Nescafé in the 70s and 80s or, even less palatable, the infamous International Roast. Flasher venues perhaps boasted filter coffee or Italian percolated, but options were definitely limited.
But how do you keep up with your customers’ tastes and expectations? It’s no longer enough to simply hand over a tepid cappuccino and hope for the best.
In fact, if you really want to keep your clientele happy and ensure that they see you as a regular haunt, you need to produce great coffee, all the time.
First and foremost that means training your staff. There are now respected barista courses in most major cities, but if you can’t afford to send every single person who will be using the machine, then make sure they’re at least taught by someone who has done a course and really knows what they’re doing.
True coffee aficionados will now wax lyrical about single-origin coffee, where the beans were grown within a single geographical region, maybe even farm. Even more specific is micro-lot coffee, which is single-origin coffee from a single field on a farm at a small range of altitude and picked on a specific day of harvest. You’ll also hear ‘organic’ and ‘fair trade’ as being desirable attributes.
Truthfully, though, customers that demand this level of specificity are probably happy to visit speciality coffee shops to get their fix. And you are probably safe if you stick to blends. Indeed, they are often preferred, if for no other reason than the Australian coffee market is still largely milk-based and those very prized speciality coffee beans won’t suit the average flat white or cappuccino drinker.
In fact, soy is practically old hat now. Many are predicting that the next big thing in coffee accompaniments for dairy-free consumers will be coconut or almond milk – reflecting the controversy surrounding the benefits of soy.
Last year also saw the rise of butter coffee – a paleo diet initiative, involving either butter or ghee, which is still growing in popularity, though it’s hard to see how not drinking milk but imbibing the butter made from that milk can really be healthier. Then there’s the proper coffee cold drip – a laborious process that is a blend of Japanese style coffee making and takes 12 hours to brew, producing a syrupy like beverage.
Or for the armchair traveller, there’s even Vietnamese egg coffee.
There is also a belief that the global coffee market is seeing a backlash to the giant (and often calorie-laden) serves that were the staples of many coffee chains, which translates for hospitality venues into smaller serves in the old European fashion. This year could well see your sales of espresso or ristretto (a short shot of espresso, extracted with half the amount of water) rise exponentially.
Whatever your customers’ tastes and preferences, as with any of your products and services, the important thing is to listen to them and make sure you can cater to their needs, even if those wind up being – ‘just black, one sugar please’.